Yamaha have built a stunning XSR700 based XT tribute scrambler to pay homage to the legendary XT500... Review: Roland Brown Pics: Jonathan Godin, Francesc Montero & Henny Stern.

Scramblers are all the rage these days. That’s not scramblers as in old-fashioned motocross bikes – those thumping British singles that wrestled in monochrome mud on televised events back in the Sixties. It’s street scramblers: retro-themed roadsters with chunky tyres and high-level pipes, like this awesome XT tribute XSR…

Yamaha understandably want a piece of this action too, and dipped a toe in the water a couple of years ago with the SCR950. That revamp of the ageing XV950 cruiser was inspired by the XT500, the long-running single-cylinder trail bike whose derivatives won the first two Paris-Dakar Rallies in 1979 and ’80. The SCR’s retro style and lumpy charm couldn’t make up for its excessive weight, crude suspension and poor performance, especially off-road.

Arai Cassons

But Yamaha clearly aren’t giving up, and now they’re back with another attempt at a homage to the venerable XT500 – this time even spelling it out in the XTribute name. This time the donor bike is a lot more suitable. As its full name confirms, the XSR700 XTribute is heavily based on the retro-themed derivative of the MT-07, that brilliant and huge-selling 689cc parallel twin that has also just given birth to the Ténéré 700.

There’s no attempt at providing any of the new Ténéré’s off-road ability here. The XTribute is an XSR700 with a paint job and some fresh details designed to give a flavour of the XT500. While the SCR950 had a red, white and black petrol tank like that of the original, 1976-model XT, the XTribute harks back to another popular and distinctive variant, the 1981 model with its polished tank and distinctive red and white lettering.

The XTribute’s gold coloured wheels are also an XT500 reference, though they’re cast rather than wire-spoked and come in the XSR’s 18in front, 17in rear diameters. Pirelli’s block-tread MT60RS tyres add a bit of scrambler style, as do the serrated footrests. The new seat is 30mm higher and slightly flatter than the XSR’s. Other new parts include fork gaiters, radiator protectors, billet frame tube caps, and black handlebar and levers.

Arguably the biggest contributor to the test XTribute’s look and feel is an accessory: the Akrapovic exhaust, which replicates the original 1976-model XT500’s system by running low before running up the bike’s right to a high-level silencer below the seat. The Akro gives the 270-degree crankshaft parallel twin a throaty bark that adds to its character and makes blipping the throttle at a standstill very difficult to resist.

In fact juvenile behaviour is tempting at all times, once you’ve thrown a leg over the fairly tall seat, reached forward to the wide and low handlebar (40mm wider than the XSR’s) and fired up the engine. Like the MT-07 and XSR700 the XTribute is a simple bike, with no alternative riding modes, traction control or cornering ABS. The basic MT family attributes of torquey twin-pot motor in a light and agile chassis are very much in place, making brisk riding, occasional wheelies and enthusiastic cornering almost obligatory.

The engine’s flat torque curve, always an MT-07 strength, means the XTribute is happy to pull away with 3000rpm or less showing on its round, black-faced instrument panel, which is borrowed from the XSR900 and offset to the right. And there’s heaps of life at the top end too. The unchanged maximum output of 72bhp at 9000rpm ensures lively acceleration all the way to a top speed of about 200km/h, though the wind-blown riding position becomes tiring long before that.

UMI Benelli Leoncino

Like the MT and XSR the XTribute will cope with highway cruising if it has to, but is far more at home on twisty minor roads where its sporty yet reliable handling come into their own. With a fully-fuelled weight of just 191kg it’s very light, albeit a few kilos up on the XSR700, and its wide handlebar enhances its effortless direction-changing ability, without detracting notably from the stability that contributes to its rider-friendly character.

Suspension is borrowed directly from the XSR, which means the forks and shock give 130mm of fairly compliant travel. Ride quality is good, and although hard cornering can generate a bit of suspension vagueness, especially on bumpy roads, the XTribute retains an enjoyably sharp and accurate feel. The Pirellis grip reliably despite their semi-off-road look, and there’s heaps of ground clearance before the footrest feelers eventually touch down.

Braking performance matches that of the XSR700, with the front stopper’s combination of 282mm discs and four-piston calipers giving all the power required by such a light bike. The rear brake pedal requires a lot of travel before engaging rather sharply, harmlessly engaging the ABS if you’re not careful.

For what is essentially a simple naked roadster the XTribute promises to follow the XSR and MT by being respectably practical. Its seat is fairly broad and gives plenty of legroom even for taller riders. With a capacity of 14 litres the fuel tank isn’t huge, but the efficient engine means most riders will average better than 5.5l/100km, giving a range of around 250km.

Ultimately the XTribute’s links to the XT500 that it’s named after are tenuous, but its only real drawback is arguably that apart from scrambler style it doesn’t offer anything that the XSR700 doesn’t, yet it costs 10 per cent more than the XSR and 20 per cent more than the MT-07. Adding the test bike’s Akro pipe adds a further 20 per cent, lifting it into the territory stalked by some attractive scrambler models from the likes of BMW, Ducati and Triumph.

Powerbronze

The XTribute is an enjoyable roadster that works far better than the SCR950 and should quicken the pulse of those who recall the XT500 fondly. It would live up to its name better if it had been given just a bit of the new Ténéré’s genuine off-road ability. But if the XTribute is ultimately more of a heritage-themed marketing exercise than a new model, being based on the XSR at least ensures that it’s a very good one – quick, light, rider-friendly and fun to ride.

Yamaha XTribute XSR700 Specifications

Claimed Power: 38.3Kw[52.1hp]
Claimed Torque: 57.5Nm[42.5ft-lbs]
Claimed Weight: 186kg wet
Fuel Capacity: 14L

Engine: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline-twin, four-stroke, four-valve, 78 x 68.6mm bore x stroke, 655cc, 11.0:1 compression, lightweight one-piece two-into-one Akrapovic exhaust
Gearbox: Six speed
Clutch: Wet, multiple disc

Chassis: High tensile steel tubing backbone-type frame, asymmetrical steel swingarm

Suspension: 41mm front forks, 130mm travel, adjustable link-type Monocross rear shock, 130mm travel

Brakes: Dual 282mm front wave rotors, four-piston calipers, single 245mm rear wave rotor, single-piston Nissin caliper

Wheels & Tyres: Lightweight cast aluminium 10-spoke, Pirelli MT60RS tyres, 120/70-ZR17, 180/55-ZR17

Instruments: Bar mounted LED display

Yamaha XTribute Gallery

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